Every week we shine the spotlight on an exceptional XBLIG, and the developers behind them, in what we like to call the XBLIG Spotlight. This week, we take a look at Going Loud Studios’ Lair of the Evildoer; a top-down, twin stick dungeon crawler set in the headquarters of a mad scientist. Check out the trailer below, our conversation with the developers behind the game, and as always, my perspective. (You may also notice that our Q&A has been updated to include some of your suggestions! See what made the list below) As usual on CBR, reading has rewards as you may even get a chance to win a copy of the game. Add Lair of the Evildoer to your download queue!First, the trailer:
First, tell the readers a bit about yourself, who you are and how/why you decided to start getting involved in making games?
My name is Ben Kane and I run Going Loud Studios. I’m a software engineer from Canada with a passion for playing and making games. As a gamer, I feel there are always moments where you wish a developer had done this, included that, or changed something about a game. I just decided to do something about it.
My first foray into game development was making mods for Half-Life 1. Nobody was going to make a game where you played as Steven Seagal, but by golly, that was the game I wanted to play and so I made it happen. It turned out rather poorly but it was blast to make a game do what I told it to. From that point on, I was hooked.
Tell us about your history as a game developer, previous efforts, etc.
I first got into the industry a few years ago as a co-op working for Electronic Arts. Working within a game team gave me a lot of experience and inspiration. After I graduated, I re-joined my old team and shipped Skate 3 (PS3, X360), working on lots of cool features.
Ultimately though, I decided to leave the mothership and take the indie approach. About 9 months ago, I started up Going Loud Studios. The first project I released was Zombie Accountant, which came out for Windows Phone 7 and XBLIG. It got a surprising amount of coverage and spurred me on the make something bigger and better.
If you had to pick one specific game to describe as your inspiration (for this game or in general), what would it be?
For Lair of the Evildoer, I drew a lot of inspiration from the Diablo series. To name a few borrowed features: procedurally generated levels, hordes of enemies, dynamic weapon affixes, character stats, and the list goes on. It wasn’t a case of trying to build a clone though; these are just aspects of the game that I really enjoy. Other features, like an inventory, currency, potions, and so forth, didn’t fit with my vision for the game and its desired pace.
Based on the controls, you might think that other twin-stick shooters were a source of inspiration. In truth, I don’t actually play many of them – I find them to be too arcade-like and focused on scoring points. Hopefully I’ve achieved my goal of setting Lair of the Evildoer apart from that pack.
Have you in the past, or do you currently have plans to work in any other platform? What made you decide to develop for XBLIG?
Zombie Accountant was originally developed for Windows Phone 7, but I can’t honestly see myself attempting another game on that platform in the near future. I’ve followed along with the platform because I think it shows great promise, but the evidence shows that paid indie games are not successful there. Free ad-based games are much more profitable, but unfortunately I don’t live in a supported country for that approach.
XBLIG appealed to me for a few key reasons. First, the framework is great. It’s well-documented, well-supported and the community around it is superb. Secondly, it has a great publishing mechanism on the Xbox marketplace with a very low barrier of entry. Thirdly, it’s just plain cool to see your work played on a commercial console like the Xbox 360.
As for the future, I have some plans to experiment with PC development. The XNA framework allows for an easy transition, although you’re on your own when it comes to publishing and distribution. And even though it isn’t paying my bills just yet, I won’t be giving up on XBLIG either.
How long did you spend on development? Can you explain, roughly, how the development process worked for you? What tools and programs did you work with?
Development for Lair of the Evildoer took just under six months, working more or less full time. I’d like to say that I had a clear plan, but here are my actual notes for the initial version:
– Movable player character with Farseer physics world and objects
– Dynamic lighting
– Zombies, combat
From there, I fleshed out how the moment to moment gameplay would work. My plan was to nail the feeling of 30 seconds of gameplay, and then build a game around that. This approach is inspired by Bungie’s work on the Halo series, which they have described as 30 seconds of fun, repeated over and over.
As work progressed, I would add features that I felt would make the game more enjoyable – loot, special monsters, boss encounters and so forth. If a prototype wasn’t fun, I simply scrapped it. In a way, the whole development process was very organic and evolved over time.
The tools I used will probably be found in any XBLIG developer’s toolkit: Visual Studio, Paint.NET and Audacity. One oddball is Microsoft Excel, which I used for managing all the data in the game (enemy stats, weapons, loot drop tables, level characteristics and more).
A game’s soundtrack can make or break a game, tell us how you selected yours. Did you produce in house, team up with a music producer or simply purchase royalty free music?
I really lucked out with the music in my game. My experience working in the industry led to a lot of great friendships. One my talented friends offered to provide the music for the game essentially for free, including editing and mastering. What’s more, he had a collection of his own music for me to browse through and try out with the game. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out. Thanks, Nitro City!
In true XBLIG fashion, I also used some of Kevin MacLeod’s (http://incompetech.com/) music to fill in the missing pieces. Kevin’s selection of music is fantastic, and his generosity is unmatched.
If you had to pick one thing that you would improve or simply do differently in regards the game’s development what would it be?
As much as I enjoyed the organic, flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style of development, I do think I could have benefitted from a bit more up-front planning. While I don’t mind coding up features and throwing them away (or modifying them), the same cannot be said for art assets. I created all of the art used in the game, and then some. Throwing away art because my visual style had changed was a colossal waste of time and effort. Next time, I’ll be deciding on firm art direction early on.
How much do reviews, ratings and other feedback of your games affect the development process for future releases?
I enjoy making games, and I make the types of games that I want to make. However, the feedback I receive has a huge impact on which ideas I decide to follow up on, what areas I focus on and what features I look to include. For instance, a warm reception for Lair of the Evildoer would likely trigger a follow-up because I have a lot of ideas that didn’t make it into this release. If the game is ignored, I’ll make something else from the list of ideas I have in my head.
Any feedback from gamers, reviewers and fans will always be taken into consideration though. I’m already building up my list of changes to make in the first update to Lair of the Evildoer based on what I’ve heard so far.
How did you go about deciding on the name for your game and why did you end up with the title you have? Were there any rejected titles that didn’t make the cut?
Naming a game can be surprisingly difficult. I actually held off on giving it a real name for as long as I could and just referred to it as “Project Splice”. A lot of ideas were thrown around, including words like “escape”, “infamous”, “villain”, “fortress”, “tower” and so on. As you can probably guess, the process involved a thesaurus and a lot of experimentation.
Good names seem to be simple words and roll off the tongue, usually in groups of 1, 2 or 3. I strayed from this with a four-word title, but I hoped that it was still simple enough to be memorable. It’s a tricky balance between simplicity and Google-ability.
Tell us about your game’s virtual “box art.” Who designed it? Was there any specific inspiration or story behind the creation process?
Like just about everything else, I was responsible for the boxart. I had initially taken a more abstract and illustrated approach that made heavy use of silhouettes. Although I thought the style was visually interesting, it didn’t match the style of the game and I didn’t want players to have the wrong expectations. From there, my approach was to create a bunch of mock-up designs using in-game art, post them for others to see and listen to their feedback. After a few rounds of this, the final boxart came out as a clear favourite.
While the response was positive and I’m personally quite happy with it, it hasn’t had the draw on the Xbox dashboard that I hoped it would. Given that the boxart is your first (and often only) chance to get someone’s attention, I plan on devoting much more time to it for my next title.
Many gamers dream of making their own games, what advice would you give someone hoping to make the jump from gamer to developer?
The great thing about developing games now is that there are so many great opportunities to do so and get exposure for your creations. Between XNA, UDK, Unity, and the AppStore, developers had a huge variety of powerful, well supported tools to start making and distributing games right now.
My best advice to someone getting started is to make and finish a game right now. Don’t fret about what technology you pick – those are just tools. You probably have a grand idea in your head that you’ve been thinking about for years. Don’t make that – not yet. Pick something within your capabilities and actually finish it. Once you get that monkey off your back, you’ll feel much more confident and you’ll have learned a lot.
XBLIG have had a mixed result so far, what is one aspect/idea/change you think would better solidify the platform as a contender in the gaming industry? What one thing do you think would improve the service as a whole, from designer to consumer?
I think XBLIG’s biggest short-coming is the public perception of the games available on the platform. It’s common to see people dismiss the entire indie marketplace as full of terrible games and apps. The problem is that I can’t really blame them for seeing it that way.
The good news is that I think this can be addressed by modifying the way the marketplace is presented in the dashboard. The current lists are too static and the ratings system is too simplistic. There’s no cross-referencing between games, no suggestions, no commenting. Imagine a system that worked more like Reddit: good games could float to the top and older titles would no longer dominate the top rankings indefinitely. If the system exposed the recent hits, gamers might be more inclined to visit the marketplace more often. Add in video trailers and suggestions for “Games you might like” and you might have a dashboard that is worth looking at.
So in short, the dashboard marketplace needs to do more. Not just for developers, but for the gamers who currently don’t see reason to visit it.
What can fans of your game(s) expect in the not too distant future?
The first thing will be an update to Lair of the Evildoer to address some of the feedback I’ve gotten. I don’t have any critical bugs to fix, but I still want to support the game and those that bought it.
Beyond that, I plan to change my development process a bit. With Lair of the Evildoer, I spent 6 months developing it exclusively. I’m now of the opinion that this is both too long to go without releasing a game and also too short a period to develop one of the grander ideas I have. So in future, you will hopefully be seeing smaller, self-contained releases from me while I work on something much bigger.
Anything else you would like to say?
Rate the game! It’s crazy how important that is to XBLIG developers. And if you enjoyed the game, tell your friends, talk about in forums and spread the word. As fans, you really do have the power to influence indie game development.
To everyone who has tried it out, thank you! You make it all worthwhile.
I’ve always wondered where mad scientist get the funds to spend so much time being mad and doing science. Lairs full of henchmen and scientific equipment are typically only seen on college campuses because they are damn expensive. With that said, it’s no wonder they get so upset when an experiment breaks loose and causes tons of damage! I can’t imagine what it cost to employ/feed hundreds of monsters, but common sense says that it’s cheaper than hiring new ones. I bring this up because in this week’s XBLIG Spotlight you play as one of those experiments who must fight their way out of the twenty story “Lair of the Evildoer.”
Lair of the Evildoer is basically a 2D (faux 3D) top-down, twin-stick dungeon crawler. Over the course of twenty levels you must fight your way through hordes of zombies, skeletons, killbots and other various monsters and enemies. Relying mostly on projectile weaponry, namely guns and more guns, and armed with a basic melee attack, you work your way down to the ground floor of the mad scientist’ lair. You gain experience, level up your character (as well as customizing your stats) and consistently find new weapons to wreak havoc with. The map presents itself in a “fog of war” style maze, where unexplored areas are not visible and you can only see the contents of the room you are in.
The levels are relatively simple in design, although some will send you down long hallways with no outlet, and mostly look the same. The maze is generated anew with each new character, seriously bolstering replayability, but causing some issues. For example, on at least two occasions I encountered a level where the stairs down to the next floor were in the second room. About every five or six levels the general look of the level changes slightly (more clinical looking vs an office), but overall the general feel and style remains pretty consistent. Later on the changes seem to occur more frequently, but the earlier levels started to feel like they dragged on after about a half hour.
Combat is simple but implemented well. At any given time you have three weapons: sidearm or pistol that is never ending, your main weapon which does have a limited amo supply and your melee weapon. Every weapon that you can pick up has its own stats and comparing two weapons is as simple as holding down LT. Everything from damager per second to clip size is spelled out for you so that you can easily pick the weapon that is best for you. Main weapon amo is all the same, so switching from a Tommy Gun to a Shotgun won’t result in a loss of amo, and you don’t have to deal with finding the “right amo” in the various boxes. The selection of weapons is decent enough, but in the end I kept sticking with descent automatic weapons, such as the “Kick ass” laser carbine (real name). The only real fault with combat has to do with the enemies.
There isn’t a great variety in enemies, and it pulls the classic dungeon crawler moves like: different colored versions of old enemies that are more powerful, identical enemies with different names, etc. For the most part though, I had no real issue with the selection of types. But what was unfortunate was that most of them were simple “rush at you” enemies. You will spend much of the game running backwards while firing at a horde of monsters coming your way. While not a gigantic issue, this just unfortunately made the game a little repetitive. Overall, while sometimes difficult, there were never any instances of “so many enemies this is impossible!” moments.
The game also manages to work in some small bits of humor as well. At times it reminded me of a much simpler, non-puzzle based version of Portal. Namely the simple act of playing as a “science experiment” combined with the somewhat oddball humor present in the game is what draws the connection. Some jokes are a little lame, such as the Evildoer’s heckling in the tutorial, and some are more subtle and clever. For example, an alligator-like enemy that was called an “Instigator.” There were also some funny computer journals that could be found in the levels.
Unfortunately though, the ending was a mess. What I imagine had to be a glitch occurred, and the final boss died with one shot. Following that I was given a minute to walk at the only speed available in the game towards the exit before the lair self-destructed. No enemies blocking my path, no possible alternative routes to get lost in, just a simple long hallway with more than twice the amount of time needed to get to the end. It really just felt like the developers tacked the ending together, and it really stands out since the rest of the game was so much better.
My only other criticism, and it is really more of a suggestion, is that this title practically screams for a two-player mode. Double the amount of enemies, force both players to stay on the screen (can’t go off in different direction) and tally the XP gained as a viewable score and this would be a great, competitive, multiplayer game. Normally I wouldn’t “suggest” a new feature to a game and I rarely call for multiplayer support, but this game would be perfect for it.
Overall I really enjoyed my time with Lair of the Evildoer. It is simple, but the combat is balanced with just enough RPG like elements to provide some depth. Most importantly, it’s pretty fun to play. The first half does drag on a bit more than the second, and the ending was completely lackluster, but a single playthrough is worth the time and the changing levels makes a second playthrough much more appealing. There certainly are some more innovative titles on the XBLIG service, but Lair of the Evildoer is a solid effort certainly worthy of the $1 price tag.
Final Rating: 8/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: Xbox 360 – XBLIG
Approximate Time to Completion: ~2.5 Hours
Gamer Score Earned: N/A
Price Bought at: N/A – Review copy furnished by Going Loud Studios
Current Price: 80 Microsoft Points ($1)
Recommend Purchase Price: Literally doesn’t get cheaper.
We know how this works by now. Going Loud Studios has been kind enough to give us a couple extra download tokens (codes) so that we can give two of you a copy of Lair of the Evildoer! You can gain up to three entries, please read the details on how to enter below:
First entry: Tell us your favorite dungeon crawler and get your first entry! That’s it!
Second entry: Follow us on twitter and send the following tweet:
@ClearanceBinRev is having a #contest and you could win the #XBLIG Lair of the Evildoer! #Xbox, More Details: http://bit.ly/iwl4cR
Remember that you have to follow us; any winner we attempt to DM via Twitter who isn’t, automatically forfeits their win. If you enter via Twitter include your twitter name in your post below, winners who have their twitter listed will receive their codes immediately after winning.
Third Entry: Like our Facebook page and then simply like the post on our wall for this article. Simple as that. (Keep in mind the article may be lower on the Facebook page towards the end of the contest and it may take a minute or two to post on FB)
Contest will go until Wednesday at 8pm CST. A pool of all eligible entries will then be randomly selected from and the winners will be notified. CBR reserves the right to disqualify any entry we feel either violated the rules or spirit of the contest, including attempts at duplicate entries. Winner selected with no twitter name provided will be notified by email and have 24 hours to respond. We do not announce the names of contest winners, but do encourage them to post about their win.